Back at the World Cup for the first time since 2006, we take a look at the Saudi Arabian side on its way to Russia.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Saudi Arabia used to qualify for World Cups as a matter of course, but failure to make 2010 and 2014 had fans desperate to reach the 2018 World Cup. Led by Bert Van Marwijk, they did. Just. There was some luck along the way, but a last-day victory over an already qualified Japan did the trick and put the Green Falcons above Australia on goal difference. Yet qualification was followed by chaos, as Van Marwijk was replaced by Edgardo Bauza – who then left himself. Currently, former Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken up the head coaching role.
Key Moments in Qualifying
The opening game against Thailand in Riyadh was proving to be a frustrating experience until the softest of penalties six minutes from the end allowed Nawaf Al Abed to secure the points. Five days later, the midfielder scores twice more from the spot to give the Saudis a come-from behind win against Iraq.
With 11 minutes remaining, Van Marwijk’s men are trailing at home to Australia. Then Nasser Al Shamrani strikes to earn what will turn out to be a vital point won.
A 2-1 defeat in Japan prevents Saudi Arabia from breaking free at the top of the group.
Needing to beat Japan at home in the final game to qualify, winger Fahad Al Muwallad makes the second-half difference and the 1-0 victory is celebrated wildly. But days later Van Marwijk announces he is leaving, with Edgardo Bauza replacing him.
After just five games in charge, Argentinian Bauza was sacked as Saudi coach.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Group
Saudi Arabia World Cup Friendlies
Saudi Arabia recently played two friendlies as preparation for the World Cup, a 3-0 victory against Moldova, and then a 4-1 loss to Iraq at the end of February. Coming up, on the 23rd of March they will play Ukraine, before a match against Belgium four days later. Italy, who shockingly failed to make the World Cup in 2018, will then be their opponents on the 28th of May. Finally they will play the 2014 champions Germany on the 8th of June.
- 26th February – Moldova (won 3-0)
- 28th February – Iraq (lost 4-1)
- 23rd March – Ukraine
- 27th March – Belgium
- 28th May – Italy
- 8th June – Germany
Saudi Arabia World Cup Fixtures
Saudi Arabia will play in the opening game of the tournament against the hosts Russia on the 14th of June. This will be followed by matches against Uruguay on the 20th and Egypt on the 25th.
- 14th June – Russia
- 20th June – Uruguay
- 25th June – Egypt
Juan Antonio Pizzi, age 49 (07.06.1968)
Even by Saudi standards, the recent coaching merry-go-round was shocking. Van Marwijk, who had been in place for two years and was building a solid team, left just days after the Russian deal was sealed. In came Bauza, who had taken over the United Arab Emirates just weeks previously. A month later, the Argentinian had also said his goodbyes. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who lead Chile to the Copa America Centenario in 2016, has come in to fill the void.
Nawaf Al Abed was cool and composed throughout the final stage, and he scores as well as creates. When given the opportunity, Fahad Al Muwallad is exciting.
Osama Hawsawi has been in the centre of defence for a long time – although some feel for too long.
Nasser Al Shamrani was Asian Player of the Year in 2014 but he started just one game in qualifying.
Van Marwijk gave a first call-up to right-back Mohammed Al Burayk and the 25-year-old performed well under pressure.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Squad
The Saudi Arabian squad for the 2018 tournament is yet to be announced.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Injuries
We will update you with any injuries to Saudi Arabian players regularly.
The Unanswered Questions
What effect will the change of coaches have?
Losing the experienced Bert Van Marwijk, who took his homeland to the 2010 Final, was huge. Not only did he know the players, they knew him and his system. Edgardo Bauza barely had time to get to know the squad, but friendly performances against Portugal and Bulgaria ended with much criticism and his departure proves that there are few seats as hot as that of Saudi Arabia’s coach. Time will tell if Pizzi can be as effective in this role as he had been with Chile.
Is Osama Hawsawi up to the job?
At 33, the centre-back and captain came into the team just after the 2006 World Cup but his ageing legs have been showing a little of late.
What about international exposure?
All the Saudis play at home and this is a problem. There is talk of some being loaned to European clubs, but that won’t be easy to arrange.
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